Inmate Sterilization, the Continued Assault on Women’s Autonomy


For more information, please contact:

Kim Rippere, Secular Woman President: 404.669.6727  E-mail

Elsa Roberts, Secular Woman Vice President: 906.281.0384 E-mail

Inmate Sterilization, the Continued Assault on Women’s Autonomy

The Center for Investigative Reporting released a report indicating that nearly 150 inmates in two California state prisons were sterilized without state approval between 2006 and 2010. The tubal ligation procedures were in violation of prison rules, but according to a database of contracted medical services for state prisoners, the state paid doctors $147,460 from 1997 to 2010 to perform these sterilizations. Worse, former inmates interviewed for the story reported that prison medical staff coerced the women, allegedly based on their likelihood of returning to prison.

“This apparent targeting of women in prison and coercing them into sterilization––without state approval––is reminiscent of the eugenics practices of the early 20th century,” said Secular Woman President Kim Rippere. “These women have been manipulated and robbed of their reproductive rights at a time when they were most vulnerable.” The sterilizations echo a disturbing past for the state of California in particular. “Between 1909 and 1964, about 20,000 women and men in California were stripped of the ability to reproduce – making the state the nation’s most prolific sterilizer,” reports the Center for Investigative Reporting. “Historians say Nazi Germany sought the advice of the state’s eugenics leaders in the 1930s.” Racial minorities, the disabled, the poor, criminals, and the mentally ill were targets of compulsory sterilization laws in California and 31 other states.

The number of incarcerated women is increasing at nearly double the rate of men in the United States, with a high number of nonviolent, drug-related offenses; female inmates have disproportionately prevalent histories of physical and sexual abuse. African-American women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated, while Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be incarcerated. In the context of these alarming numbers, these recent findings of coerced sterilizations in California prisons seem to be  merely a continuation of California’s dark history of eugenics.

Secular Woman decries this abuse of women already in the vulnerable position of incarceration; we support every woman’s right to body autonomy and are gravely concerned at this attempt to control reproduction by selectively sterilizing groups considered to be unfit to procreate. Tubal ligation is a major surgery for women under the best of circumstances––much more invasive than vasectomy for men––requiring general anesthesia and, also, unlike vasectomy, is irreversible. Reports from former inmates indicate that many were coerced into sterilization while under sedation, in labor, and often based on inaccurate advice regarding their risk factors––for example, based on the idea that women who have had multiple C-sections should be sterilized. “Dr.Carolyn Sufrin, an OB-GYN at San Francisco General Hospital who teaches at UC San Francisco, said it is not common practice to offer tubal ligations to women who’ve had one C-section,” the report stated. “She confirmed that having multiple C-sections increases the risk of complications, but even then, she said, it’s more appropriate to offer women reversible means of birth control, like intrauterine devices or implants.”

This attempt to selectively control women’s reproductive choices has extremely disturbing social and medical implications; furthermore, shaming women into a serious and permanent medical procedure that will impact the rest of their lives is the height of unethical behavior. Secular Woman hopes that, as a result of these findings, swift action will be taken to ensure transparency and proper acquisition of approval for medical procedures in U.S. prisons, to prevent unethical physicians from taking advantage.


Secular Woman is an educational non-profit organization whose mission is to amplify the voice, presence, and influence of non-religious women. For more information about Secular Woman visit:

Our Bodies Politic

On a recent podcast, I was asked if I identified first as an atheist, secularist or as a woman. My response was that I identify in this order: human, woman, secularist and then atheist. Essentially, I put my biology before my beliefs, which are a function of the era in which I live. Still, since being asked that question, I have been thinking about how intensely intertwined being female and being a secularist are for me.

The United States of America is moving ever closer to becoming a dominionist theocracy and leaving the ideals of democracy in the stardust. Our government has been infiltrated with religious-based thinking and ideals. A few foundational areas that require immediate attention for the re-secularization of the U.S. are the military and reproductive health care. Clearing out these areas of religious ideology is a prerequisite to secularizing womens’ bodies. We must return a woman's sovereignty over her own physical being to her. There is no other way to move forward; each of us must be able to make decisions (based on full and accurate information) about our own bodies. 


At present, sexual assaults against female soldiers are continuing at an all-time high; all the while these women are unable to obtain legal abortions. The 2012 Army report “Discipline of the Force: The High-Risk Populations” has some exceedingly disturbing statistics about how women fare in our government's Army: “Although females compose only 14% of the Force, they compose 95% of all victims of violent sex crimes." Of the 1,313 (a 97% increase from 2006) reported violent sex crimes, 1,247 of the sex crimes were against female soldiers. And of these violent sex crimes 515, or more than one per day, were rape. Mind you, this is just the Army and just reported rapes; I am confident the actual number is much higher. Nearly 3200 sexual assaults were reported military-wide and they estimate that the actual number was closer to 20,000. Based on this ratio, the number of rapes of female soldiers (just Army) per day can be estimated at 8.8.

Imagine being in the military and being denied access to a legal medical procedure that you need only as a result of being raped. Is this restriction based on a religious principle? Here is a quote from Rick Santorum: “And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life and accept what God has given to you.”

When religious zealots are elected to State and Federal legislature, women's health, including access to contraception and abortion, somehow become the purview of the government; not the woman and her doctor. The restrictions being passed now are the result of theocracy infiltrating our secular government.

Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.
~Robert Heinlein

Reproductive Health

For U.S. woman, 2012 has been a dismal year politically with government representatives attempting to legislate women's health concerns at every opportunity. How? By silencing women, referring to women as livestock, comparing women to caterpillars, introducing over 900 bills to restrict access to legal reproductive healthcare, and, most recently, by finding female anatomical terms obscene!

Infamously on February 16, 2012, the Congressional Oversight Committee held a hearing regarding birth control — without ONE women being called to testify.

On March 29, 2012 the Georgia legislature passed the “Women As Livestock" bill (HB 954); it was signed into law by Governor Deal on May 1, 2012 and took effect that same day. This bill criminalizes abortions after 20 weeks, with no allowances made for rape or incest. During a floor discussions while in session, Terry England (R-Auburn) compared women to cows, pigs, and chickens. Skeptical that someone would say this on the record? Here is the video.

While trying explain that the “War on Woman” is fiction, the Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus made an analogy about the “War on Caterpillars” being equally real. He must not watch the news, be on the Internet, or have any type of connection to the daily happenings surrounding him. The Guttmacher Institute has this to say about Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights: Trends in the First Quarter of 2012: 

  1. 76 abortion restrictions have been approved by at last one legislative chamber; 9 have been enacted.           
  2. Legislators have introduced 944 provisions related to reproductive health and  rights; 472 would restrict abortion.          
  3. This legislation includes ultrasound requirements (state sponsored rape), medication abortion limitations, gestational limits, and refusal to provide contraception coverage.

Can you say vagina? Not in the Michigan legislature — not even when you are discussing women's health! Lisa Brown was banned from the House floor by Republican leaders merely for uttering this word in their presence. The GOP-led house worked feverishly to explain away their banishment of two female representatives. According to them, the word “vagina” is vulgar, even when talking about women's health care.

If this is not war, what is? Do we have to wait until abortions are illegal to wake up and see that there is a war over the control of female bodies?

Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They all want to control women. They want to control how we dress. They want to control how we act. They even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and our own bodies. Yes, it is hard to believe but even here at home we have to stand up for women’s rights and we have to reject efforts to marginalize any one of us, because America has to set an example for the entire world.
~Hillary Clinton

Smell the Theocracy

In each example we've presented, the root assumption is nonscientific, religious-based judgment. In each example, women's choices about their own bodies are being limited by the government. In each example, a religious viewpoint is using OUR government to attempt to control, subjugate and diminish women in society.

Much if not all of the legislation fueling this War on Women is based on religious belief. In what should be a secular nation, laws based on religious doctrine and ecumenical chauvinism drive the USA ever closer to theocracy. The right of every woman to be sovereign over her own body is essential for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness to which every woman has a right.

Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?
~Sandra Day O'Connor

Kim Rippere, President
Secular Woman